"Claire!" Peter said, taking a few long strides and becoming to a halt in front of their table, "Gabriel." His face lit up with a warm smile at the sight of his niece and his old friend.
Claire and Sylar stared at him, then at each other and then at him again. "Holy fuck, Peter," Sylar laughed as he got up to embrace him. "It's been a while."
"Yea," Peter agreed, slapping him against the back, "It's really good to see you both again."
When he let go of his friend, he turned around to wrap his arms around Claire, who was still speechless. As she pressed her cheek against his chest, she felt happiness, this strange peace flow through her, even if only for a fleeting moment. As soon as he released her, it was gone again. He was here for a reason, she just knew it. He was as troubled as they were, and that thought saddened her greatly.
Peter sat down beside Sylar, who signaled the waitress to bring three cups of coffee. "Where'd you get the scar?" he asked then, turning to his side to face him.
"Wow, that's one long story," Peter sighed, that boyish smile still on his lips, "but one I need to tell you, because, guys, I really need your help."
"We have a little mystery of our own going on here, but of course," Sylar said, glancing at Claire with mild interest.
Claire felt as if waking up from a deep sleep. "Yeah," she confirmed hastily. She just couldn't stop gawping at Peter. It had been so long. He still looked his old self, though a bit older and more tired, not to mention that ugly red scar, obviously.
"So… tell us!" she added after a short pause in a chipper tone. She suddenly felt excited again. It was her uncle, right there across the table from her. Her uncle, whom she hadn't seen for years. A million new questions popped up in her head, demanding answers she hoped to receive.
"Woah," Peter said, taking a sip of his coffee. "I guess I should start with a question of my own. Have you ever heard of an organization who calls themselves the True Nation?"
"True Nation?" Sylar repeated, his eyebrows raised. He thought about it for a moment before shaking his head. "I haven't concerned myself with these new forces for years now… too many lunatics in this business, if it's anywhere close to what I think it is."
"I've heard the name," Claire said quietly, looking up to meet Peter's eyes. "Some, uh, five-six years ago, perhaps. They were a radical movement out of Seattle, against anything evolved, including evolution itself. A bunch of nutcases if you ask me…" She felt confusion washing over her. "What about them? They failed in politics so badly, they must have disbanded in a year's time."
"No," Peter replied quickly. "I believe they went underground instead, retreated from the legitimate business, and operated onwards out of the public eye."
"Emma and I were in London about five and a half months ago. There was a car explosion, maybe you heard about it on the news?"
"Yes," Sylar said at once, "A member of the parliament was killed, right? From House of Lords?"
"Exactly," Peter nodded, continuing promptly. "We never stayed anywhere for long, but we'd just arrived and we never thought it could be an ill sign. We never thought they would find us. But in hindsight I guess we should've just bolted, no questions asked." He sounded sad when he said it and for the first time since his appearance, Claire realized that Emma wasn't with him. She'd been so shocked and then so glad to see him that the thought hadn't even occurred to her.
"It was the True Nation that was behind it," he said, his voice sounding hollow."Of course I didn't know it at the time. They never found any traces of an explosive device…"
"Wait a minute," Claire interrupted him, puzzled. She tried to ignore the weird emptiness in the pit of her stomach as she formed her thoughts into a sentence. "The True Nation was, or is a group against the evolved. If you're implying there was a person with an ability behind it…"
"Yes, that's precisely what I'm implying. That's what they do, I've researched it. They wanted the general public to think it was an evolved human who assassinated that politician. That's their very mission: to drive a wedge between us and them, so the governments would take more drastic action against us."
"And if they've made their way from Seattle to London, they must have quite a grasp," Sylar said in a grim tone. "They must have grown quite a bit during those five-six years."
Claire could feel her stomach turn. It was worse than she'd imagined, then. Moreover, she'd been completely ignorant of such developments. She could feel her old guilt bubbling up, threatening to crush her.
"And if what you're saying is true," Sylar continued, looking even grimmer than before as he glanced at Claire meaningfully, "then I think this True Nation was behind blackmailing Kenrick as well."
"I read about it. He's the man who was killed during the Washington demonstration," Peter said. "If he was planning to blow up the picket, I'm saying it definitely sounds like the True Nation."
"But that means they're fucking insane!" Claire heard herself half-shouting. Thankfully there were hardly any people besides them in the diner in the middle of the night. "I mean," she resumed more quietly, "they were ready to kill hundreds, if not thousands of people who share their twisted view of the world in the name of what? To make it look as if some enraged psycho with an ability to explode did it? So that next time there'd be ten thousand radicals demanding our confinement?" As these words rolled off her tongue, Claire realized that this was probably exactly what they wanted. And to be honest, it scared the shit out of her.
The three of them looked at each other with some discomfort before Sylar reminded them that Peter hadn't finished his story.
"Oh, right," he snapped out of his train of thought. "At first everything was alright. Emma was worried after the car explosion and, I suppose, I was too. Everybody was talking about the possibility of an evolved human being behind it. The victim had been in a commission that dealt with our rights and legislation after all. There were some pretty worrisome opinions circling in the media, even some acts of violence against our kind. I told her not to worry, told her it would pass soon. Only it didn't."
Claire heard the words, but her mind was somewhere else. She vaguely remembered seeing something about the London events on TV, but violent behavior towards the evolved wasn't sadly that uncommon to alarm her. Back then it had likely just been some news story that was playing in the background while she was getting drunk on the couch.
Sylar across from her was listening intensely, his frown so deep, he looked rather wolfish with those thick eyebrows of his.
"Soon came the letters," Peter proceeded stiffly. "They were odd. Asking us to 'join them', so we could 'achieve great things', wanting to meet us, to talk about 'our future together' and all other sort of bullshit. They frightened Emma and they frightened me as well, and I couldn't figure out for the life of me why they thought we'd join them."
"We decided it was time to disappear, but it was already too late… One night I woke up to some commotion and they were there, in our apartment. I tried to grab Emma and run but-" he stopped for a moment to swallow a lump that had formed in his throat "-the only ability I had was the one that hid us from the Company. So when we couldn't escape, I tried to fight them, but there were too many. One of them hit me, and I swear, he must've had an ability because that punch was so powerful it knocked me right out of a window… I fell down three storeys."
"The next thing I knew I was in a hospital and it was a month later. I was wrapped in a ton of bandages, unable to move, and they told me it was a miracle I had survived. I kept asking about Emma, but nobody knew a thing about her. It took me almost two months to get on my feet again and since then I've been searching for her. That's how I heard about the True Nation, don't ask me how deep I had to dig, and I know its them, I just know its them who took her, who sent those letters, who broke in," he finished fiercely.
"And we'll get her back," Sylar said calmly, though his eyes were burning. "Do you know how to find them?"
"That's the thing," Peter sighed, "I don't. However deep I dug, I couldn't find out that."
"Any other leads?" his friend wasn't about to give up.
"Two, actually, but unfortunately they're out of my reach."
"What do you mean?" Claire put in curiously.
Peter felt his pockets and pulled out a piece of paper. "When I researched about the True Nation I found out about two instances where their evolved "tools" have been captured by the police. Usually they disappear or die. One of them is some guy named-" he glanced at the writing on the paper before him "-Ben Adler and the other one you might remember, our old acquaintance from level 5 – Flint. Only they're both in high-security prisons now, where I can't reach them."
"Damn it," Sylar murmured. "If one of us could phase or…"
"We can't," Peter said curtly.
Claire felt a small smile spreading over her face. "Guys," she whispered, and they both looked at her. "Flint Gordon is my uncle. I'm sure I can get in."
"He is," Peter muttered matter-of-factly, seemingly surprised that he hadn't thought of that himself.
"So where are we heading?" Sylar said smiling slightly as well. Finally things started moving in a favorable direction again. And that was really all they needed, a new horizon to strive for, a fresh lead to follow.
"Colorado State Penitentiary," her uncle said, chuckling at their new-found optimism.
They sat in silence for a while, all sipping their half-cold coffee when Claire suddenly thought of something that left her at loss.
"Peter," she started, "how did you find us?" They were in some random diner in Louisiana, it was in the middle of night and her uncle simply walks in the door. What are the odds of this being a coincidence? Very little to none?
"I visited my mother," he complied. "I took her ability and that night I dreamt of you, of this diner and of this night, and I knew I had to get here, had to meet you again and, I am truly sorry for that, include you in this pursuit." Claire observed him as he explained himself, glancing at each of them in turn. He looked so worn out, so strained, but yet so hopeful. That was so like Peter, Claire thought to herself, he could be dead tired, chasing some near-hopeless thread, but still he always found the strength to go on.
She also thought about Angela and where she might be these days, but before she could say anything, Peter spoke again. "Wait, earlier you said you had a mystery of your own?" he reminded them.
Claire wondered for a second if he changed the subject so abruptly because he didn't want them to ask questions about her, but decided it was better not to voice those thoughts.
Sylar and Claire started to recount the events that had led them to this diner, interrupting and completing each other constantly.
After they finished telling the story a tense silence descended. "It's all connected," Peter finally said.
"I agree," Sylar growled, who had also heard the full story for the first time, "and considering Parkman's reluctance to chase me, I say he's got his fat little fingers all over this."
"But connected how?" Claire asked. "Let's assume that the True Nation was behind the London car explosion and Corey Kenrick's case, but why did they need to get rid of Sy- Gabriel," she corrected herself quickly, "and why abduct Emma?"
Sylar looked at them as if waiting for someone to say it first. "Her power," he said slowly. "They probably want to use it to their advantage somehow."
Claire didn't want to think about some creeps forcing Emma to use her ability to execute some awful plan… again. She was so kind, so sincere, she didn't deserve this. No, she couldn't think about Emma right now. "How did they even find out about you?" she wondered instead.
"I don't know…" Peter shook his head, perplexed.
"Parkman snitched?" Sylar suggested dourly.
"The thought of him being involved in this somehow crossed my mind too when I learned about his decision not to go after you…," Claire said, "but Matt Parkman a snitch to some underground organization who loathes our very existence? No, I don't buy it. He may have changed for the worse these past years but he wouldn't condemn his own kind. He has a son who's like us, after all."
"He hates me, he'd kill me the first change he'd get-" Sylar argued, but Peter interrupted him.
"The only way to know the truth is for you to remember," he said decidedly. "They might have used the Haitian to wipe your memory or who knows what they did exactly but there's a way to restore it. Do you remember Daniel Linderman?"
They both nodded and Sylar muttered: "That Vegas mob boss?"
"Yes," her uncle nodded. "He could heal people, even return lost memories. I happen to know that he has a son, John, and I'm pretty sure he can do the same thing. I need to find him and get his power."
"But what about Flint and the True Nation?" Claire asked, confused.
"There's nothing that I want more than to find Emma, but if it's true and this is all connected then we need to get as much information as we can," he said simply. "You go and see Flint, find out what you can, and I'll find John Linderman. We'll meet up again."
"Alright," Claire allowed, "but we need to be careful. Don't forget that the Company can track us whenever they feel like it. The only thing that's protecting us is the fact that they think Peter cannot be traced, that I'm rotting in New York like a good little girl and that Sylar is dead, assuming they had anything to do with that."
"Well, that means," Sylar said fake enthusiastically, starting to count on his fingers, "no air travel, no credit cards…"
"No cell phones," Peter added to their surprise. "I know I sound really paranoid, maybe I am," he uttered a short laugh, "but if there's someone like Micah out there, they might listen in on us and report to god knows who."
"Lord, it sounds like Sauron himself is after us," Sylar japed darkly.
"So how do you propose we communicate?" Claire inquired.
"I'll find you," Peter said confidently. "The dreams will lead me."
"They won't once you'll switch abilities," Sylar reminded him.
"Don't worry," he wouldn't recede, repeating his earlier words. "I'll find you."
Peter stood up with that familiar smile on his face. Claire loved that smile. It reminded her of that young man she'd once met in Union Wells High School, standing before a showcase, his chest full of crazy dreams and more courage than Claire thought one person could contain. The guy who saw good in everyone, the nurse who above all wanted to help people, and the hero who wished to save the world. This Peter right in front of her still possessed many of these qualities, but he wasn't naïve anymore nor careless.
They paid the bill and left the diner. As they stepped out onto the small parking lot, it was dawning outside already. In the east, behind a clump of trees, the sky was already a bright red color, slowly melting into yellow and then light blue, while in the west, it was still deep blue with a few lone stars yet to fade away.
Claire took in the fresh morning air, her eyes sliding up and down the empty highway.
"Bye, guys," Peter said, baring his teeth for one last smile, and they gave him their farewells.
Sylar pulled out that same bottle of whiskey and took a sip, offering it to Claire, as they watched him walk to his car. It was an old Ford, but she couldn't really say which model. She knew very little about cars.
Claire shook her head at Sylar. "I'm driving." He withdrew his hand and took another gulp himself.
Peter pulled out of the parking lot and too quickly his car vanished behind a curve in the end of the long straight road. They could hear the sound of his car engine for a moment longer but then it was all silent again, just the two of them standing in the rich morning light.
"Let's go," Sylar said, and started to walk towards their car. Claire tore her eyes from the road and followed him, groping her pockets for the keys.
As they drove away, in the opposite direction from Peter, she remembered that he hadn't even told them where he was heading, where he hoped to find this John Linderman. In her mind, she wished him good luck.
"Are you okay?" her once-again travel companion asked her, a touch of concern in his voice.
"Yup," she grinned, feeling oddly glad he was with her. "You're the one who was dead for four months, I should ask you."
He laughed gruffly, pulling his tie off with one hand and turning up the music with the other. "I couldn't be better, I love this song."